Wild vs. Avalanche Preview

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DENVER, CO (AP) - The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild are separated by only a point while both are currently outside the top eight for a Western Conference playoff spot.

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After an All-Star break extended by an epic winter snowstorm across a good portion of the country, Colorado returns home looking to get its offense back on track Thursday night against Minnesota with two important points on the line.

The Avalanche (25-19-6) had Tuesday's visit to St. Louis postponed because of a storm billed as the worst in decades, and haven't played since a 5-2 loss to Phoenix last Wednesday - their third in four games. Colorado has scored a combined five goals in those defeats after totaling eight in two games before the slump.

According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Avalanche -140 money line favorites for Thursday's game against the Wild. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 60% of more than 63 bets for this game have been placed on the Wild +129.

Matt Duchene scored his team-high 20th goal of the season, but the All-Star has scored only twice in his last seven.

"When we get back, we know what we have to do," said forward Paul Stastny, who has a goal and five assists in his last six games.

Craig Anderson made 25 saves against the Coyotes after Peter Budaj allowed two goals on nine shots in just under 14 minutes. Anderson, who is 13-12-3 with a 3.12 goals-against average, beat the Wild 4-1 in the teams' last meeting Jan. 14, but was pulled for Budaj on Dec. 23 in a 3-1 loss.

Colorado set a season high for goals scored in a 7-4 victory Nov. 27 at the Pepsi Center as Greg Maudlin had a career-best two goals and two assists in the win. Another matchup with the Wild may be just what the Avs' struggling offense needs to get going after averaging 4.0 goals in the three previous meetings.

Though the Avalanche rank fourth in the NHL with 3.16 goals per game, Minnesota's defense hopes to continue its solid play.

The Wild (26-19-5) have won five of six after defeating Los Angeles 1-0 in a shootout Tuesday. They've outscored their opponents 21-7 in that stretch and are ninth in the West with 57 points.

Niklas Backstrom earned his third shutout of the season with 27 saves and made a sprawling stop on the Kings' Jack Johnson in the shootout.

``He had me beat so I tried just to get something up there and got lucky,'' Backstrom said. ``It hit my skate. You need those every now and then.''

Backstrom is 3-1-0 with a 1.48 GAA during the six-game stretch, while rookie Anton Khudobin went 2-0-0 with a 0.50 GAA.

However, Jose Theodore will start against his former team. The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner is coming off a hip injury and hasn't played since Jan. 11 in a 5-1 loss to Nashville. He's 2-5-1 with one tie and a 2.84 goals-against average in his career against the Avalanche, who he played for from 2006-08.

Matt Cullen scored twice and added an assist in the December win against the Avalanche, but he's scored only two more times since. Forward Martin Havlat and defenseman Brent Burns, who represented the Wild in the All-Star game, have combined for six goals and five assists in the last six games.

Minnesota has been one of the league's best road teams of late, going 10-3-1 in its last 14 away from home. The Wild have been even better in Colorado in recent years, going 7-1-2 in their last 10 visits.

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